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Wheelchair tennis: Altering perceptions, changing the discourse on disabilities in rural India

Copyrights: Anatapur Sports Academy

Wheelchair tennis: Altering perceptions, changing the discourse on disabilities in rural India

In Anantapur, an economically backward and poverty-stricken district in Andhra Pradesh, India, the power of sport is being harnessed for the benefit of the children with locomotor disabilities.

Poverty and disability, a concoction of this misfortune is an undeserving bane of life for any child. Children with disabilities born into underprivileged sections of the society are perhaps most deprived of opportunities, often facing the stigma, discrimination and negative perceptions which exclude them from education and community life, depriving them of opportunities necessary to their social and economic development. Persons with physical disabilities are often seen in Indian society as liabilities and dependent due to their restricted mobility.

There is a striking need for a change in the social perception of the children with disabilities in the rural communities of India, where disabled children are looked down as a “punishment for the wrongdoings of families”.

Sport has the power to influence these perceptions of the society, reduce stigma and transcend the socio-cultural barriers in the society. In Anantapur, an economically backward, drought-prone, poverty-stricken district in Andhra Pradesh, this power of sport is being harnessed for the benefit of the children with locomotor disabilities.

Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), a sport for development initiative in collaboration with Rural Development Trust (RDT), Fundacion Rafa Nadal and Ashta Foundation’s Indian Wheelchair Tennis Tour (IWTT) started the wheelchair tennis program in Anantapur for children with disabilities.

Tennis as a sport is perceived to be the sport of the rich in India and elsewhere. Lack of access to quality infrastructure, equipment and coaching hamper access to sport in the rural and backward areas. In India, wheelchair tennis is rare, and only a few in society have access to it.

ASA joined forces with RDT and created a wheelchair tennis program for children with locomotor disabilities, giving them an opportunity to explore and enjoy the sport. In June 2019, the wheelchair tennis program started in Anantapur Sports Village (ASV), with 10 children (3 girls, 7 boys). Training sessions are held twice a week, and exercise sessions are held daily to strengthen their upper limbs. Regular training sessions include fun workouts, mobility training, and tennis coaching.

With the technical support of IWTT, two coaches from Nadal Educational and Tennis School (NETS) at ASV were specially trained to coach children in wheelchair tennis. Physical education teachers at RDT’s inclusive school help children exercise every morning.

“The sport did wonders to their confidence,” says Nanda Gopal, a physical education teacher. “I’ve seen their progress with my eyes, they are now more confident and fit. This sport is showing a very positive impact on the education, self-esteem and the overall attitude of the children,” he adds. 

“The progress of these children has been radical. Not only physically, but also socially and emotionally. Before, they used to wait outside the court. Now they are eager to start and are not shy of anything or anyone,” says Dasharatha Ramudu, Director of Disability Inclusive Development, RDT.

Wheelchair tennis has boosted the confidence of the children, given them a passion to pursue sport and positively influenced them. “When I play tennis, I feel everything is possible,” says Ganesh, a player in the program. “I feel lucky to be part of the program,” adds D. Sirisha. 

Through IWTT’s ‘The First Serve’ workshops, children in the program also had an opportunity to meet and train with Nalani Boub, an Indian-Swiss world ranking wheelchair tennis player. Today, she stands as a role model and an aspiration for these starters. The ASA-RDT wheelchair tennis program aims to send these athletes in national and international competitions.

This program is a testament to the transcendental power of sport and its inclusive nature. Programs like these are creating a positive impact in the lives of children with disabilities and changing the perceptions and discourse in the society on disabilities.

 

Ernest Abhishek Paul is the Communications Officer at Anantapur Sports Academy

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Published

Friday, November 27, 2020 - 18:01

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